SZCZECIN, Poland (Reuters) - NATO’s top military commander, General Philip Breedlove, said on Tuesday the defence alliance was looking at beefing up its exercises in the Baltic Sea region in response to a surge in Russian military manoeuvres there late last year.
NATO member states around the Baltic last month reported a large number of sorties by Russian warships and air force jets, including incidents when they said Russian aircraft came uncomfortably close to other air traffic.
Breedlove, speaking at a NATO headquarters in Poland which the alliance is expanding in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, said the Russian activities in the Baltic had changed in character and showed capabilities not seen before.
Asked by journalists how NATO would respond, he said: “There will be several adaptations of our exercise programme. The first series of changes will not be an increase in number but they will be to group them together ... to better prepare our forces and to allow nations to work together as a NATO force, but we are looking at increasing some exercises.”
Breedlove said Russia continued to provide aid for pro-Moscow separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine, clouding prospects for peace talks. Moscow denies giving material help to the Ukrainian rebels.
Plans for talks between the Russian and Ukrainian leaders have been scrapped because the implementation of a ceasefire has been patchy.
Breedlove acknowledged that the fighting in eastern Ukraine had abated in the past few weeks.
But there had been no lull in Russia’s “continued resupply, continued training and continued organisation of the forces east of the line of conflict,” he said, referring to the separatist rebels.
Reporting by Wiktor Szary; Writing by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Christian Lowe and Andrew Heavens